The Riot Fest line-up is always impressive. For fans of punk, there is always at least a handful of band on each year’s line up that make the trek to Chicago worthwhile. Bad Brains, The Might Mighty Bosstones, Screeching Weasel; every year the organizers of the weekend punk festival bring together some of the biggest names in punk.
The Riot Fest weekend started early with a Thursday night line-up dubbed “Red Oktoberfest”. Originally an entire fest all-together, the two fests merged this year to create a “megazord” of fests.
Organized by Red Scare Industries guru Toby Jeg, the line-up featured some of the more prominent name is the world of modern pop-punk. The evening, at the famous Metro in Chicago, started with a short and sweet performance by Lawrence Arms’ chief troublemaker Brendan Kelly. His acoustic set included a few originals and a peppering of classic Lawrence Arms tracks and was capped off when he was joined on stage by the rest of the Lawrence Arms for the thunderous “Hey, What Time is ‘Pensacola: Wings Of Gold’ on Anyway?”.
Next up were Californian punks Vultures United who were a solid punk/hardcore group along the lines of The Bronx. Despite their energetic performance, the crowd seemed bemused by their set.
The rest of the got more and more wild as the bands that played drew larger and larger pits of party punks. The Brokedowns delivered an impressive set of heavy, humorous sing-a-longs. Their style and combined band weight reminded me of a younger Dillinger Four. Definitely worth checking out if they ever come through Indianapolis again.
Next up were Red Scare favorites The Copyrights. While their performance in Indianapolis last Thursday was impressive, it could not compare to their rowdy set at The Metro. Not only was the crowd going bonkers, but the band was joined on stage by guest drummer Neil Hennessy of The Lawrence Arms and guest vocalist Mikey Yannich of the Ergs! for an over-the-top performance of “She Turns it Up”.
Immediately following the Copyrights was Reno, NV trio Cobra Skulls who had just played in Indianapolis the previous night. Having recently made the jump from Red Scare to mega punk label Fat Wreck Chords, Cobra Skulls drew a massive crowd of rowdy, drunk fans.
The mosh pits and pumped fists of the previous five bands were no match for the massive Metro-wide mosh pit that erupted when legendary punk band Propagandhi ripped into their set. With five albums and 25 years of experience, Propagandhi has a rabid and dedicated fanbase throughout the world. The set opened with the brutally metallic “Night Letters” from 2009’s Supporting Caste. Most of the set was comprised of material from Supporting Caste, Potemkin City Limits and Today's Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, but the band treated the crowd to a few oldies such as the painfully accurate assessment of modern politics, “And We Thought Nation-States Were A Bad Idea” and the haunting reggae jam “Haillie Sellasse, Up Your Ass”, a brilliant song that begins as a critique of Rastafarianism, but quickly evolves into an attack on Zionism and religion in general. The great unifying moment of the evening, however, came during the anthemic (and self-explanatory) “Fuck The Boarder”, which had the massive pit more violent that usual...all in support of migrant workers’ rights.
Each of the band that played could have headlined an impressive show all their own, but the fact that they were all together supporting Propagandhi was almost unreal. The rest of the fest looks impressive, but Red Oktoberfest will be hard to top.